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How to become a dental nurse

To become a dental nurse, you'll need to complete a pre-registration training programme. You must then register with the General Dental Council (GDC).

What is a dental nurse?

Dental nurses contribute to the safe and effective care of patients by providing support to other members of the dental team. 

They promote and maintain health and safety in the workplace and make sure there is a high standard of infection control. 

Dental nurses are essential in delivering high-quality patient care. They work in all areas of dentistry, including general dental practice, dental hospitals, public dental services, and within the armed forces.

Starting your career as dental nurse

Choosing subjects at school

To become a dental nurse, useful subjects may include: 

  • Biology
  • English
  • Maths 

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Education and training pathway

There are different education and training pathways to becoming a dental nurse. 

Knowledge of English language 

To practise safely in the UK, all dental professionals must have the necessary knowledge of English. 

The GDC standards state that dental professionals must “be sufficiently fluent in written and spoken English to communicate effectively with patients, their relatives, the dental team, and other healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom.” Effective communication skills include: 

  • speaking 
  • reading 
  • writing 
  • listening 

Find out more about the GDC English language requirements for dental professionals

Dental Nurse Induction 

Training will begin on your first day as a trainee dental nurse. In Scotland, NHS Education for Scotland (NES) offers a Dental Nurse Induction learning programme. It has 4 modules that you’ll study at your own pace, with the support of workplace colleagues. 

In each module, you’ll carry out research and investigations by reviewing websites and engaging in discussions with colleagues. 

The Dental Nurse Induction learning programme will provide you with a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities as a dental nurse. This means you can work safely while waiting to start a pre-registration training programme. 

Find out more about the Dental Nurse Induction learning programme

Pre-registration training programme 

Dental nurses must either be registered or in training. This means that you’ll be one of the following:  

  • Employed and enrolled or waiting to start on a recognised programme that will lead to GDC registration. 
  • Studying on a recognised programme that leads directly to GDC registration. 

As a trainee dental nurse, you must complete a recognised training programme that leads to registration with the GDC. Training providers can advise on specific programme entry requirements.  

Search My World of Work for pre-registration dental nursing training programmes

Modern Apprenticeship 

Some trainee dental nurses start their careers as Modern Apprentices. 

NHS Education for Scotland provides an overview of the Modern Apprenticeship in Dental Nursing

With a Modern Apprenticeship, you'll get the training and experience you need to become a dental nurse and the following professionally recognised qualifications: 

  • SVQ in Dental Nursing at SCQF level 7 
  • PDA in Dental Nursing at SCQF level 7 

You’ll also evidence the 5 SQA Core Skills at SCQF level 5. 

When you complete the SVQ and PDA in Dental Nursing qualifications, you’ll be ready to register with the GDC. 

Find out more about the Modern Apprenticeship in Dental Nursing.

Get to know the role

As a dental nurse, you'll assist dentists, dental therapists, orthodontic therapists, and hygienists to provide a range of dental treatments to patients. You may also assist with reception work by greeting patients when they arrive and booking new appointments. 

Some patients may be anxious or nervous about their appointment. You'll help put them at ease and make them feel comfortable. 

Tasks include: 

  • prepare and maintain dental equipment, instruments, and materials within the dental surgery
  • infection control and decontamination procedures
  • record dental charting carried out by clinicians
  • prepare and mix dental materials
  • provide chair-side support to dentists, therapists, and hygienists throughout a range of dental procedures
  • support and reassure patients
  • administration support for appointments, taking payments, and updating patient records

You'll need these skills:

  • caring
  • communicating 
  • relationship-building
  • collaborating
  • focussing
  • organisation

Dental nurses work with other dental care professionals, including: 

  • dentists
  • dental therapists
  • dental hygienists
  • orthodontic therapists
  • dental technicians
  • clinical dental technicians
  • reception staff
  • practice managers 

You could work in: 

  • general dental practices
  • public dental services
  • hospitals
  • armed forces

Learning and development

As a dental nurse, you would be expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). The purpose of CPD is to maintain your skills, knowledge, competence, and registration with the GDC. 

Find out more about CPD for dental professionals

Career progression  

With experience and additional training, you could develop your knowledge and skills to extend your role within the professional scope, including: 

  • impression taking 
  • dental radiographs 
  • clinical photographs 
  • apply fluoride varnish to prevent tooth decay 

With experience, further training, and gaining appropriate qualifications, you could change your career path or registrant group. For example, you could become an orthodontic therapist, dental hygienist, or dental therapist. 

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified dental nurse, you must register with the General Dental Council (GDC).  

You can also join the following organisations: 

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